So green, so bright, so beautiful
Green – this is the first word that comes to mind when we talk about Bexley. Definitely, this is the place, which each and every eco-lover will be proud to call home. The London Borough of Bexley owns and maintains over 100 parks and open spaces within its boundaries, with a total of 638 hectares (1,580 acres), so approximately one-third of its surface is taking care of the clean air. Bexley has one more reason to be proud of itself. This is the borough where renewable electricity and recycling are equally covered. Leases and prices of the properties are the most affordable in the whole of London, plus there are four schools, which provide proper education, according to SAT’s results. The district is one of the safest boroughs as well, so if you are interested in finding a tidy flat, we assure you that Royal Cleaning operates in Bexley.
All of the above puts this area on top, when we think of family-friendly places to raise our offspring. Bexley is the home of the interfaith forum, which aims to meet all religions at one place and unite their individuality. This is only one of the many examples, which are showing how open-minded and friendly are the people here. Although in 2012 it was voted “one of the best places to live” not only in London, but in the whole country as well, the vividly green and quietly emphasized borough somehow stays under the radar. It is time to draw the curtains and put the sunlight on the borough of Bexley.
Take home a piece from the Paleocene
Our first stop is Abbey Wood. No, we’re not talking about the essential station opened in the last millennium - on 30 July 1849, we want to take you on a little walk down the road. Welcome to the Lesnes Abbey Woods – one of Great Britain’s local nature reserves. Here you can spend your day away from the city’s buzz, and surround yourself with the beauty of the untamed nature.
While you’re enchanted by the calm, but forceful charm of the ancient woodland, look closely, cuz’ somewhere in the forest await pieces of art, sealed in tremendous wood carvings. The trees will give you shelter and the lovely bubbling sounds of the nearby stream will make the worries go away. Plus, if you’re into treasure hunting, this verdant place has something more to offer - with permission from the local authorities you can easily go fossil hunting and find your own unique shark teeth for example. It would make really authentic jewellery, don’t you think?!
Wash away the Sins
While we’re still in Lesnes Abbey Woods, we’re about to take on a journey through the history. The nowadays ruins, considered to be an object with national importance, used to be a decisive local landlord, founded by Richard de Luci, Chief Justiciar of England, in 1178. Rumours have it that in the very roots of the monastery is a story of murder and guilty conscience.
Lesnes Abbey Woods is often called the undiscovered gem of South East London. The site is also home to a striking mulberry tree, reputed to have been commissioned to be planted by King James I himself. Despite its graceful past, the site is rarely visited by tourists, which can be a good thing, especially if you want to take a perfect Instagram photo or just dive into the past of quondam England. The Abbey grounds are open all the time, but our advice is to visit them during the spring, when the blossom of the wildlife will besiege you with magic.
Celebrate love, nature and art, in a nonpareil style
Have you ever dreamed of a fairytale wedding, set somewhere back in time, when silk embroidered dresses and perfectly shaping corsets were in fashion, before the industrial revolution made it all simple, grey and dull – well, now you can. Just set your ceremony in Danson House. The current registry office in Bexley used to be a mansion, celebrating love and marriage.
The Grade 1 listed villa is one of the best examples of Palladian architecture in the United Kingdom. The mansion was built in 1766 for Sir John Boyd, sugar merchant and vice-chairman of the British East India Company. Danson House was designed by Sir Robert Taylor, who was the architect of the Bank of England, and the interiors were made by William Chambers, the founding member of the Royal Academy. Since money wasn’t an issue, Boyd wanted a house that expressed not only his wealth, but also his taste, a place that fits for royalty and nothing less. Hundreds of years later, HM Queen Elizabeth II, herself visited the mansion and reopened it for the public in the spring of 2005.
As they say, behind every great man there's a great woman, or in this case - behind every successful entrepreneur, there’s a beautiful lady. Boyd’s young second wife dazzled him with her charm and was the inspiration behind the sophisticated and graceful style of the mansion. You can view the grand rooms and their astonishing beauty, since the Danson House is open to the public every day (have in mind that there are scheduled hours).
We guess you won’t be surprised if we tell you that the building was used as a filming location, won’t you, and that it is situated in a park… Not only a park though, but a beautiful garden, green as an emerald with blooming ruby roses. Danson Park is the second largest public park in Bexley, often considered the finest green open space in the borough, with its three gardens (The English Garden, The Rock Garden and the Peace Garden – we really can’t pick just one and state it as the loveliest) and tremendous views.
Since we’re still in the area – don’t miss the projections of The Luna Cinema. The ultimate backdrop is a sure recipe for unforgettable cinema under the stars. Don’t forget to book your tickets earlier – the magical nights here are something you don’t want to miss.
The past is still alive
The rest is history, you heard them say, but here you can go on a journey and relive the past in Old Bexley – the historical heart of the borough. Eighteen of the buildings in the conservation area are listed. Among the sustained in time venerable assets, you can see the King’s Head public house (probably 16th century), Styleman’s almshouses (1755), High Street House (1761) and the former parish workhouse (1787). The late-Victorian Freemantle Hall is another example for significant architecture. Nowadays it serves as a community centre and hosts all range of events, among which are local art exhibitions – open for everyone to take a peek.
Look up and roll back your clock, we’re heading to the last century. On January 8, 1911, in Market Place was laid the foundation stone for the Clock Tower of the quondam Bexleyheath. However it was officially unveiled on July 17, 1912, to commemorate the Coronation of King George V. That was when the first bust for one of its four niches was made. Decades later on 18 January 1997, a sculpture of William Morris, who lived at the nearby Red House, took the second niche. On 9 June 2013, a bronze sculpture of Queen Elizabeth II was installed on the south niche, in celebration of the 60th anniversary of her Coronation. Yes, you’ve counted them right – one niche remains empty, the north one – and only time will tell if we’re going to see who will take the last available place during our lifetimes.
Last but not least, don’t forget to visit the St Mary the Virgin, which rich history can take you over eight hundred years back in time.
Roll the red carpet for the Red House
This significant building, located in the heart of Bexleyheath, is truly a gem, kept from the reign of Queen Victoria. The Red House is associated with two famous names - Philip Speakman Webb, the architect well-known to every architect in the world as the Father of Arts and Crafts Architecture, and the designer William Morris, one of the most significant cultural figures of Victorian Britain. Its traditional craftsmanship was virtually anti-industrial and advocated the simple forms, while commonly using medieval, romantic, or folk styles of decoration. It inculcates the vernacular architecture, which embodied the vast majority of the world's built environment, and thus resists a simple definition. It is perhaps best understood not by what it is, but what it can reveal about the culture of the people or the place at any given time.
The inwardness of the vernacular architecture requires a simple design, which doesn’t reach beyond a building’s functional requirements. This significantly contrasts to elite or polite architecture, which is characterized by stylistic elements of design intentionally incorporated for aesthetic purposes. The construction takes us back to 1860, carrying the spirit of this era, quietly whispering its memories of evenings filled with art. Decades later, the owner of this magnificent building put it for sale. Thankfully, an anonymous benefactor purchased it and donated it to The National Trust, who completed the purchase in 2003. Since then, The Red House is open for the public to take a peek at the iconic Arts and Crafts home of William and Janey Morris and the centre of the Pre-Raphaelite circle. The Entrance Hall, illuminated with the light from the stained-glass windows, The Dining Room covered in “dragon’s blood”, the modestly tasteful Bedroom and The Drawing Room, decorated with hand-painted murals and tapestries, are all well-kept and await to meet the eye with their inimitable style.
Right in Two, but still One Whole
It is more than hard to describe a home like this, seen never before. Two owners, two wings, two different architectural styles, two highly contrasting decorations, two distant decades, two distinctive building materials but still one house – welcome to unparalleled Hall Place. The construction started in 1537. It was the home of the wealthy merchant Sir John Champneys, Lord Mayor of the City of London. Building materials included stone, recycled from a nearby former monastery, Lesnes Abbey, to accurately represent the marvellous masonry style popular at that time. In 1649, the house was sold to another wealthy City merchant, Sir Robert Austen, who added a second wing built of red bricks, doubling the size of the house. That’s how the two halves, built in highly contrasting architectural styles, were compelled to live as one, creating perhaps the most unusual home in the whole of Britain. Later on, by the code name Santa Fe, this magnificent building played a significant role in The Second World War.
Nowadays you can visit the fascinating Hall Place and its outstanding gardens. Did we mention the Queen’s Beasts, the enormous heraldic animal topiary planted in 1953 in celebration of the coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth II?! Well, it’s time to see how the fantasy stories come to live - 10 mythological monsters stood on their guard, waiting to be explored and of course instagramed.
And there’s more
We offer you briefly but memorable mentions in the borough of Bexley, that you should consider to explore yourself by all means:
- Foots Cray Meadows or the biggest park in Bexley. 97 hectares (240 acres) in size, wild forest, peaceful park, two available bridges above the crystal clean water and breaking views await you.
- London's Most Glorious Sewage Pumping Station, known as the “cathedral of sewage”, actually with not even a bit of irony, is a place that deserves your attention. Don’t underestimate this part of the story and find yourself lost in the grandeur of the Crossness Pumping Station.
- One more well-kept jam can lift its veil for you. 112 North Cray Road, Bexley DA5 3NA - this is nowadays addressed, where you can find authentic Gothic Bath House, hidden in the garden of an ordinary semi-detached house in Bexley. It may be hard to arrange a visit, but as one of the most unique buildings in the borough, it deserves your attention.
- Need a place to enjoy a pint of cold ale after all these hot spots – we got you covered. Just remember the name Penny Farthing. This cosy micropub was voted the best CAMRA pub in Bexley for 4 years in a row – so there must be something more than the opportunity to grab a real ale there. What is so special about this place – well go and find yourself. We’ll wait for you in the borough next door.